The Troop by Nick Cutter (5 out of 5)
The first inkling I had that I was in trouble is the Stephen King blurb saying it scared the crap out of him. The second was Jeff B, my friend and former colleague at the previous bookstore, warning me that it was great and terrifying. Both gents were right on. Don’t read it before bed. Don’t eat while reading it. Don’t turn your back for too long. Just. Don’t. This is old school horror at its best. I haven’t been this horrified and captivated since my last relationship.
Scoutmaster Tim and his troop are on their yearly camping trip- on Falstaff Island, a secluded, semi-spooky island in the middle of nowhere and far from inhabited land. Their trip is interrupted by the arrival of a scaringly thin, frightening, and ridiculously hungry man, who lands on the island in a boat in the middle of the night. Spooky enough? Tim goes to the man and attempts to help him (Tim is also a doctor, in case I didn’t mention that yet). What happens and what Tim and the boys are exposed to- is beyond creepy. It will scare the lavender Levis off of you. What becomes apparent is that in Tim’s haste in operating on this man (to try to save his life), he’s infected by some form of whatever virus is eating this man alive (literally, as much as the man is eating, it’s all for naught). The boys are worried, scared, and downright anxious after Tim breaks their shortwave radio, thus killing any chance at calling in for help from the main island where they normally dwell. What has stumbled into their trip, into their subconscious, into their circle of life, making it quickly into a circle of dread and dead (or undead?). Are we human, or are we vampire? Or are we neither? Try a human carrier of a bioengineered nightmare orchestrated by a psychotic, antisocial military outcast. And when you get to meet the man who started this nightmare? Prepare to hate, scratch your head, and hate some more. You can’t hate Tom, the man who’s sent to the island, and is the first victim of this. You can’t hate Tim, because he was only doing what a good doctor, man, and scout would do- try to operate and fix whatever may be wrong with the man. In the process of that, obviously, a can of worms with gaping mouths is opened, and true evil begins to spread, not just Tim but also the boys, one by one. It becomes a bit Lord of the Flies rather quickly, but it’s the sort of book where one pages bleeds into another, and before you know it, you’re done with the book, it’s 3am, you have to be up at 6am, and you’re terrified as hell. And that, dear reader, was ME. I hadn’t had a good, old fashioned horror story in a long, long time. Until this book. If you’re a fan of horror, this is the one. Definitely going to be one of the spookiest books I’ve read probably in the past five years. I was not, unfortunately, that impressed with Cutter’s newest offering The Deep (which was released in January of this year) when I read it a few months back, but he truly knows how to craft an original story.
What did I like? Everything. I especially liked the ring of truth in human nature when it becomes apparent that all is not well on the island, and that people are going to be dying post haste, if someone doesn’t get them the hell off the island before someone else is infected with this virus. Is it a virus? What is it? I liked that Cutter didn’t take an easy way out with any of the characters in the story- those who you believe may bite the dust, well, they very well may. And those who may or may not be part of the plot, well, may be part of the plot. There are moments where the boys- friends for years, and some not so friendly- question everything and everyone’s motives, actions, and words. And that’s exactly how it should be, if a situation such as this were ever to arise outside the pages of a novel. Some part of this, some people may put in the science fiction bin, and I guess I could see why, but ultimately, I would not agree. It’s 100% horror, in my opinion. The main perp of this cloud of evil that descends upon Tim and his scouts is pure, pure evil. Nothing here is sugarcoated. Nothing here is an “easy way out”. Nothing here sucks..and that’s why you should read this as soon as possible. The Troop by Nick Cutter is available in mass market paperback now, at your nearest independent bookstore.